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From Antennas to HDTV - the Technology of Televisions

From Antennas to HDTV - the Technology of Televisions

A Look Back to the Humble Beginnings of TV

By Jared Norman

| Jun 27, 2013


First TVs

Can you imagine a time before TV? While TV has become an almost essential part of our lives, it came from surprisingly humble beginnings. The first television sets had only a handful of channels that were shown on a whopping 3 inch screen. Before 1947 there were maybe a few thousand homes with televisions. Now over 98% of homes in America have at least one television in them.

TV entertainment has gone from black and white to color, from grainy to full HD, and from silent films, to full surround sound. Not only has the technology changed, the content has changed as well. We’ve gone from having a handful of channels to choose from, to literally thousands through cable, satellite, and now online streaming services.

The First TVs

Beginning as far back as the late 1800’s, many different scientists and engineers were looking for ways to capture moving images. The first attempts were mechanical and used rotating disks, called Nipkow disks, which had holes arranged around them in a spiral pattern. A man name Philo Farnsworth demonstrated the first electronic television in 1927. By 1939, a company called RCA bought a license to Farnsworth’s patents and began selling TVs with 5 inch picture tubes (a far cry from the 60 inch or bigger LED TVs you can buy today). The idea of personal television took time to take traction, by 1946 only some 6,000 homes had a TV. But by 1955, half of the homes in America had one. Much of that growth can be attributed to the rise of cable TV.

TV Transmissions

Telestar: the first TV satellite

Today cable TV is very common, but early Television sets could only use TV antennas to receive signals over the air. That restricted the use of TV to people who lived within range of the broadcasting towers, which were only found in major cities. RG59 cable, a type of cable commonly used for television, was invented back in 1929, but cable TV didn’t come onto the scene until the late 1940’s. At the time, the few television stations that existed were in the major cities, so a lot of people couldn’t receive television signals. Cable TV allowed people all over the country to have access to television.

With Sputnik and the beginnings of the era of space exploration, scientists at Bell Labs dreamed up the idea of using a satellite to broadcast television signals. Telstar, the first television satellite, looked more like a giant beach ball than a sophisticated piece of equipment. But when it launched in 1962 it was the first times that live TV could be broadcast across oceans. Since then dozens of satellites have been launched and satellite TV has become just as common as cable. Because of the different signal that satellite uses, a new coaxial cable was created. Now many televisions use RG6 cable instead of RG59.

Now most of our TV isn’t restricted to a physical TV. With the internet we can watch content on our phones, computers, and tablets. But that doesn’t mean TVs are any less popular. Many modern HDTVs can connect to the internet, and a variety of different PC to TV adapters allow any TV to display content from a computer. Now most TVs use HDMI cable, since it can support much higher quality video, along with other features. The newest versions of HDMI even support 4k ultra HD resolutions.

More Resources

It’s amazing to think of how far TV has come. Here is some more information about to help you learn more about all the changes that have happened, are happening, and will happen in the world of television.


Early Television Sets

  • First Television Sets – Useful page showing and describing he television sets that were in existence prior to 1935.

  • Early Television – Historical page with information and links to other helpful site with information on early televisions.

  • History of Television – Article which provides a look at the origins of the television.

  • Television Invention Timeline – Helpful page listing events in the history of the advancement of the television.


Cable Television

  • History of Cable Television – Informative page on the beginnings of the first cable television programming.

  • Cable TV – Informational article which shows how cable was able to bring television to rural areas.

  • Evolution of Cable Television – Informative page which outlines the developments of cable in the industry.

  • How Cable Works - Useful page from the cable industry explaining how cable function.

Satellite Television

Video Cassettes

  • History of the Video Cassette - Web page which shows how the video cassette was used to record television programming.

  • Tape History - Historical page with an overview of the history of the video cassette.

Laser Disc and DVDs

  • Laser Disc History – Information on the technology that came into the market in the 1970's.

  • History of the DVD - Helpful page which discusses how the technology of the DVD started.

  • DVD Development History – Article which provides details on the development of the DVD.

  • DVD Information – Definition and information on how a DVD functions from this useful article.

Blu-ray Discs

Internet Television

  • How Internet TV Works – Article which provides information on how consumers can get programming via the Internet.


  • HDTV History – Informative article which looks at the past, present and future of television.

  • HDTV's History – Web page which chronicles the history of high-definition television.

  • HDTV Information - Publication which discusses the history, regulations and more about HDTV.

  • How HDTV Works - Article which explains how high-definition television functions.

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